Today it felt like I needed to give Romania some rest. I remembered that I’m due to finish my Cypriot story.
It was the last day of my vacation and since I had enough of baking under the sun and Larnaka had been dutifully explored, the ghost town of Famagusta , was an appealing idea.
The journey to Famagusta was a bit bumpy since we had to take a local bus to Agya Napa and from there the tour bus. It took the local bus an hour to drive the 30 kms between Famagusta and Agya Napa on a secondary road so I got to see a couple of non touristic villages.
They had a rather alien look. The arid, Mediterranean landscape in Cyprus kind of gives the impression that you are holidaying on Mars.
After another half an hour from Agya Napa we were crossing the border to the Turkish side of Cyprus. You must have valid passports to be allowed to enter Turkish Cyprus. If, as an European Citizen, you can enter Greek Cyprus only with your ID card, passports are needed for the Turkish border.
As far as I saw, crossing the border was not just a mere formality, the passports and the tour bus were carefully checked and we were given also a Turkish tour guide to accompany us. We were asked to behave. The situation was calm but you could feel the tension sizzling under all those polite poker faces.
The history of Cyprus is complicated with the island going through a lot of political and administrative changes. The one event that has led to the separation between the Turkish North and the Greek South is the 1974 Turkish invasion. Several towns were affected with Famagusta being one of them. The town fell under Turkish power and the Greek became refugees in their own country.
We were first taken to see the abandoned neighborhood. The houses belonged to the Greek families that left everything behind and flew south. There were massive ruins right in the middle of the town. Beautiful manors destroyed by decay; a school that appeared frozen in time.
I was a bit disappointed. I expected to be able to wander through the deserted alleys and streets and see the ghosts of past Cyprus from up close. For an unknown reason, the neighborhood is considered a military area and it’s surrounded by high fences and barbed wire. We couldn’t even stop the bus so we just got a glimpse during a short drive around it.
Needless to say, photographing is strictly forbidden. We were warned that if we tried to sneak a couple of photos and a military officer saw us we would be taken to the police to have the photos erased. And would ruin the trip for everybody and cause problems to the guides. Fun, right?
Next stop was the touristic center of Famagusta which I honestly found charming. It had a bit of everything: a 1000 year old byzantine cathedral turned into a mosque, British colonial buildings used as high fashion shops, fake goods trying to pass as real deals and baklava.
The baklava is a traditional Turkish sweet, the best in the world if you ask me. Just a bite of this magical cookie sends you in an instant sugar rush. It’s made out of pastry, honey/sugar syrup and hazelnuts or pistachio. I’m not sure about the recipe and I suspect that the good ones are kept a secret.
I got myself a box of baklava and thought about finding a nice shady place to enjoy them. Nope, didn’t happen! I ate them right after I left the candy shop, in the middle of the street. One of my most lady-like moments!
In the Turkish territory, the currency is the Turkish lira but you can use Euro everywhere. It would be useful to know the exchange rates because the price in Euro is not displayed so you have no idea if you are paying the right price or not. I haven’t tried bargaining for a better price, although tempting.
Our last stop was the Golden Sands Beach in Famagusta. I haven’t seen anywhere a more crystal clear water like the one at Golden Sands. Nissi Beach in Agya Napa is amazing but this one here is mind-boggling. The gold sand, the warm turquoise, the pristine water, it looks almost like paradise. I’m saying almost because…
…there’s a military observation deck right on the beach, in the middle of the umbrellas and sun beds. And there’s also a bunch of abandoned, creepy hotels. It’s a weird image: beach paradise on one side, war zone on the other.
Of course, photographing the buildings was not allowed but the beach was not off-limits so I snapped a couple (thievishly).